Jun 3, 2009 6:53am
Re: Les Vampires
Episode 1: The Severed Head [30:49]
The series gets off to an intriguing start with some scene-setting that introduces us to Philippe Guérande, dynamic reporter at le Mondial, and his quest to expose The Vampires, who for this first film remain teasingly shadowy figures. The publicly announced arrival in town (this happens several times during the series) of wealthy American Margaret Simpson and her fabulous jewels inevitably attracts the attention of the gang, a black clad member of whom raids Mrs. Simpson's bedroom at night in a sequence that has future echoes of the bedroom visitations of Nosferatu and Dracula, creatures of the gang's namesake. We are also introduced to Philippe's kindly old mum, and Philippe has his first dealings with Mazamette and the crime lord known as The Grand Vampire.
Episode 2: The Killer Ring [13:06]
The shortest episode by some degree provides Philippe with some serious motivation to hunt out The Vampires when they target his fiancé, the famed dancer Marfa Kontiloff, who is starring in a ballet entitled – who'd have thought it? – Vampires. Philippe gets kidnapped by the gang, the first of several successful such attempts, and Mazamette effects his first of his many "I just happened to be here" interventions.
Episode 3: The Red Cypher [37:52]
A notebook recovered from the body the Grand Inquisitor of Vampires that rather foolishly details the crimes of the gang (and then optimistically warns against reading it) has come into Philippe's possession. He asks for an article to be put in paper announcing the temporary suspension of his investigations due to illness, then demonstrates his good health to the audience by leaping out of bed and exercising with weights. It's all a ruse to fool The Vampires, of course, who are watching his house and immediately take the bait.
It's here we are finally introduced to Irma Vep (hoorah!), who's performing at the splendidly named Hissing Cat Club, the basement of which is a meeting place for the Vampires, who are obviously way more fun than the prissy Philippe. Gang bigwig Comte de Noirmoutier sets a plan in motion to retrieve the notebook, one that involves installing Irma in Philippe's house as a maid and kidnapping his mum, but good guy help is at hand from an object given to Philippe by, you've guessed it, Mazamette. In a neat bit of animated visualisation of reasoning, Irma Vep's name is shown to be an anagram of 'vampire'. But you knew that, didn't you?
Episode 4: The Ghost [29:29]
The plot complicates and the pace picks up as businessman Juan Jose Moréno approaches estate agent Treps, who unbeknown to him is a head vampire who uses his position to fleece potentially wealthy clients. Moréno's looking for an apartment containing a safe and Treps finds him one with a false rear wall that allows access from the neighbouring property, where Irma and he are lying in wait. But when they open the safe they find not money or jewels, but evidence that Moréno is himself also a criminal, probably from their own organisation. What they don't realise is that he is actually the head of a rival criminal organisation and as much their enemy as the police.
The main story involves Monsieur Métadier, an employee at the bank in which Irma is masquerading as a secretary and a man who has been charged with the job of transporting 300,000 francs to Roen. He never gets there – Irma and her colleague kill him en route. Imagine their surprise, then, when he turns up at the bank later as if nothing had happened.
The explanation for all this is intriguing and satisfying and the story is well told. The episode is also handled with more technical aplomb than its predecessors – a slow pan past a dividing wall to reveal Irma's presence and a split-screen phone call are particularly memorable, and there's even a flashback when Moréno explains how he came across Métadier's body. There's also an increased sense of the macabre, with a corpse wrapped and stuffed in Moréno's safe and the banker's nasty murder at Irma's hands accompanied by the intra-title "A good use of hatpins."
Episode 5: The Dead Escaping Man [34:28]
Although not without its share of long, single-shot sequences in which characters explain something to someone else, this is another lively episode with its share of memorable moments. The chief would-be surprise is given away in the title, as Moréno is hauled before the magistrate and promptly commits suicide with a concealed cyanide pill. Of course he's not dead after all, as an unfortunate prison guard finds out when he rises from the dead (a nicely creepy image) and throttles him, stealing his uniform and making good his escape.
Philippe gets kidnapped by the Vampires again, this time in spectacular fashion (you really have to see this one), then by the cocksure Moréno, who threatens to hang the reporter unless he aids him in his vengeance against the Vampires. Wealthy locals are invited to a party and gassed for robbery in a standout scene, while the camera goes on the move when it follows a car on which Moréno is perched as he looks to rob the robbers. The conveniently located Mazamette is once again on hand to get Philippe out of trouble.
Episode 6: The Hypnotic Gaze [52:27]
Philippe and Mazamette discreetly nip off to Fontainbleau to do some nosing around and spy American tourist Horace Werner concealing a box in the forest. Back at Werner's hotel the Grand Vampire, who's disguised as someone named Compte de Kerlor, links Werner and his wife to a $200,000 robbery and starts planning how he'll get his hands on their loot. Things seem to be going to plan, but little does he know that rival villain Moréno is also at the hotel and not only intends to grab the loot from the Vampires, but kidnap Irma and hold her to ransom for good measure.
The running time increases but this doesn't result in more complex plotting, at least when compared to Episode 4. Enjoyable nonetheless, not least for Irma in her all-blacks, but animal lovers might want to give this one a miss – a visualised story related by de Kerlor involves what looks very like the on-screen killing of two bulls. Ends intriguingly with a change of social status for Mazamette and a question mark over Irma's future following a... ah, but that's not for me to reveal.
Episode 7: Satanas [41:19]
Here we get to meet the true Grand Vampire in the shape of the ruthless Satanas, who pops in to paralyse Moréno and suggest he fall in behind him or face the consequences. He's a man with the power to back up such a threat, too, as he keeps an artillery cannon concealed in his apartment and can target distant buildings to within a few feet without alerting the neighbours of the shell's source. In an interesting technological touch this cannon has to be wired to the electricity supply to operate.
Another newspaper story about another visiting wealthy American attracts immediate Vampire attention, and Irma works with fellow femme fatale Fleur-de-Lys to charm the old fool of his signature and voice in a rather neatly executed if improbable plan. It shows all the signs of working until Mazamette just happens to visit the bank at the same time as Fleur-de-Lys...
Episode 8: The Thunder Lord [48:49]
A plan to release an imprisoned Vampire is set into motion that will kill many to free one. Wow these guys are bad. Animated lettering is once again inventively used, this time to illustrate the reading of a coded message, and the idea that invisible ink can be read by warming a Vampire note between praying hands puts a pleasingly dark spin on a religious ritual.
It's a neat enough narrative that's scuppered a little by yet another of Mazamette's chance encounters and a further just-in-time appearance to save the day. He's even got his young son to help him this time, a cocksure little brat who's been thrown out of school and appears to be learning his father's trait of winking at the audience. Oddly enough this is the only episode he's in.
Irma's triumphant return to the Hissing Cat Club is an episode highlight, and illustration of how things have changed in the acting profession is provided by the unnerving image of Musidora, the actress who plays her and an acrobat by trade, lying under a train as it pulls away. A lovely intra-title has her explain her ragged condition to the station staff and police as "a timeless tale of star crossed lovers to which simple souls are so partial." A brilliant chemist named Venomous is the gang's new boss.
Episode 9: The Poison Man [47:41]
From now on it's The Vampires vs. Philippe Feuillade, who's looking to marry Jane Brémontier, which makes you wonder how serious he was about poor departed Marfa. Venomous and his crew go after them at their engagement dinner, first with poisoned champagne, then by spaying their car with toxins, but guess who's hiding in the trunk on the vehicle's side? The pace is brisk and there are some well done travelling shots in an enjoyable chase, but as for the ending...
Episode 10: Marriage of Blood [55:07]
The final act is briskly staged but a tad depressing for those of us rooting for Irma and the boys, as by now it's clear that the good guys are likely to win and they simply don't deserve to. For the second time in the series the gang kidnap someone by hauling them neck-first from an upstairs window and just once more Mazamette gets to foil their plans. Irma's impending marriage is marked by an 'orgiastic' celebration that confirms beyond all doubt that Irma's gang is the one to be in, if only to help to bring the insufferably smug Philippe and Mazamette to their worthless knees.
DVD Outsider Attachment: Irma_Vep.jpg